I’m not competing in any challenges this year as I want to concentrate on reading new books that come my way, catching up with series that I’ve fallen behind on and rediscovering old classics. However, given that Anya Lipska’s Where the Devil Can’t Go was in my top five reads of 2012, I’ve decided each month to read a book that is only available in e-format. Furies by D L Johnstone caught my attention because of its ancient Alexandrian setting. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I love historical mysteries but they have to be well written and this book has begun to garner some decent reviews.
The 36 AD Alexandria of Furies is part of the Roman Empire and a centre of trade and commerce. For some, it is a city of untold riches but the shifting fortunes of business can result in disastrous financial predicaments. Decimus Tarquitius Aculeo is a man who has been ruined by a calamitous investment. The man responsible for his misfortune has disappeared leaving Aculeo penniless and deserted by family and friends. Aculeo is determined to trace the man, but his quest leads him into danger. A murderer is moving through the city, killing first a slave and then a courtesan, and his fate seems linked to that Aculeo.
This is an intelligently written thriller which comes across has having been very well researched. Alexandria is well portrayed as a city mirroring other outposts in the Roman Empire but with a greater sense of its own self-worth. It is a difficult balance when writing books set in this period to get the language just right. You need to avoid what Ariana Franklin used to term the ‘gadzooks’ style of narration where the language sounds unnaturally archaic. Johnstone has avoided this through the use of a contemporary sounding dialogue mixed with specific Alexandrian terminology, such as hetaira for a high-class courtesan. This works well. And, as an aside, there is a character in the book, a female doctor Sekhet in the mould of Franklin’s Adelia Aguilar who will appeal to fans of that series.
It was a complex plot but kept my attention throughout and had an unforeseen conclusion. I would also like to mention how impeccably formatted the book was. This is the benchmark which all e-books should look to emulate. I don’t think I saw a single typo or line or paragraph out of sync. It’s the first time that I felt like I was reading a paper edition of a book on my kindle.
I received a copy of the book from the author. It has also been reviewed at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel.